In Part 1, you found out what aquathlons are and the venues likely to host them.  In Metro Manila, Xavier School in San Juan City also hosts them, and milk maker Alaska sponsors events like Alaska Iron Kids (thanks to its Iron Man CEO Wilfred Uytengsu).  Now you know where to go. Now is also the time to prep you for competition. Yes! Competition is fun.

The Ateneo Aquathlon 2014 (2 Mar 2014).
After three aquathlon participations, I have heard from many of my contemporaries old and new to the sport that swimmers tend to have a distinct advantage.  There is some truth to that, since I have witnessed a good swimmer outswimming a member of the Philippine Triathlon Team (who got even by outrunning that guy and finishing first overall).  It, however, doesn’t apply to all and doesn’t apply all the time.

Swimming is always the first leg in typical aquathlons, triathlons and the seldom biathlon (swim and bike).  As I said in Part 1, swimming requires mastery of technique over brute strength, and is not something easily grasped by many.  As the SBR.PH Aquaman organizers would have it, it’s easy to spot a good swimmer leading the pack in the “washing machine” (a term I will define later) by their distinct gliding strokes.  Those that don’t glide efficiently on the water ended up doing the breaststroke in order to gulp air every stroke at the cost of speed, further agitating the “washing machine.

The swim leg is not only the first step to a successful finish, but it is also the hardest for many.  Aside from the lack of technique mastery, the other factor that makes it hard is the “washing machine” phenomenon.

Whether in the open sea or in the confines of an eight-lane pool, expect water splashing and hands and feet thrashing as people try to find calmer water to swim on to immediately get to our natural element: land.  As many a newbie found out the hard way—with liters of pool or (sic) sea water accidentally gulped on the way to transition—calmer water will never happen.  You can only choose to be a calmer, more efficient swimmer, even when someone else’s foot almost kicked your face.

Preparation for even an aquathlon is as much psychological as it is physical.  You have to know your limits and your strengths, and accept the fact that even simple running, when mixed with science, goes a long way, faster.  So you’ve done your homework of watching swimming and running videos and shopped for the right stuff.  The next thing you have to work on is attitude.

If you happen to be a fairly good swimmer—someone who glides with the least number of strokes per distance—you should opt to be the leader.  Position yourself in front of the mass start, swim, and stay in front.  If you’re not very efficient on the water, do what applies to bike-commuters: find your space.  You are likely to encounter the following in the midst of all that chaos:

  • Slower breaststroking swimmers in front could kick your face;
  • Freestyle-swimming swimmers at your sides could slap your head;
  • Faster swimmers clawing your feet from behind you;
  • You’re getting tired, and a rightly-placed water splash will choke you and disturb your rhythm; and
  • You’re tempted to get even with the competition that you wanted to act like you’re in a rock concert mosh pit.

The swim leg is not for the faint of heart and lungs.  You have to have a winning attitude, even if you are unlikely to win any medals!  You should be single-minded in your goal of getting out of the washing machine fast, and calm within yourself—like a string quartet playing Beethoven’s Ode To Joy in your subconscious.

From the bubbly broth of thrashing humanity, you proceed to transition.  I have learned one very important lesson here that even I have yet to apply to myself: wear socks!  Lamenting blistered feet for the third aquathlon in a row, Coach Anthony Lozada told me “What’s 30 seconds in transition compared to an additional five minutes on your 5K run?”  He, by the way, is the son of the late “Tito Bert” Lozada, founder of the popular Bert Lozada Swimming School.

Transition area of the SBR.PH Aquaman, UP Diliman poolside.  Those are just about everything I need: run light and run with water to go.  I have since bought Zoot triathlon shoes on the recommendation of Coach Anthony [Lozada], which is better than a pair of Skechers GoRun(R) with speed laces.

You’ll be tempted to think that transition is your chance to rest, as in statically rest.  Don’t!  Plain and simple, transition is where you exchange your cap and goggles for shoes, race belt and sunglasses, then go.  And, of course, don’t forget socks!  Also, stopping to catch your breathe is an open invitation for cardiac arrest, so keep moving.

To further prevent blistered feet that can slow you on your run, powder your shoes and socks during the pre-race transition set-up.  Your shoes, ideally, should be the kind that wicks sweat and allows water to drain. Among other things, bring a race belt that can carry water bottles since you could need more water than water stations provide. Also, water stations don’t keep up with you: thus the word “station.”

Now, the run.  There is a different feeling when you’re running a 5K or a 10K.  First, you don’t start from a mass start on land.  You’re already partly spent just battling it out back in the washing machine.  Your legs did not come from standing or walking, but from kicking: an activity that involves different muscle groups in different ways.  Expect your body—specifically the lower half—to cope with the change as your heart pounds.  Don’t give up: this is what you signed up for after all…right?

Think of your run as the second half of a 10K run based on this obvious fact: you are already partly spent due to the first half.  Here’s another, sort of encouraging, tip: 800m swim = 5km run.  So, if you can run a 10K or more, you can compete in an aquathlon.

I also kept saying “partly spent” because we’re humans, not cats: lions, tigers, cheetahs or the alley cat.  All are species that rely on ambush-hunting and are not known for stamina.  Well, we’re not horses either, but fact of the matter is, for all the food we eat everyday, not all of them are spent as energy.  Most end up in fat stores under our skin.  Maximum heart rate for most people in their teens to early 30’s is more than 200 beats per minute.  So whatever happens, keep moving!  But for the absolute newbie, and for the sake of his/her productive years, don’t be too gung ho.  Again, check with your physician first before even signing up.  If you feel the need to rest in the middle of the race, rest actively by walking.

The run leg of the SBR.PH Aquaman 2014 (15 Apr 2014), UP Diliman.  Photo by IC3 Sports Photography and the SBR.PH Tri Series organizers.

These said, I think you’ll be well on your way into finishing your first aquathlon.  So, what’s in store other than besting your personal bests?

When you join an aquathlon as your gateway to other multisports like the run-bike-run duathlon, triathlon and the rare and odd “jumblethon” (reverse, half triathlon), you’re joining a community of diverse people.

As the multisports are typically more expensive and logistically challenging (since it involves two or more individual sports needing special venues), most participants are young professionals who have worked and saved enough for some time.  The good thing about this community is that you get to rub elbows with—more often than not—more mature people that include lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, fresh graduates or graduate students, parents, and even priests!  You can be competing with a BPO team lead and a chief executive officer in your same age group.

True, multisports is expensive, but it is not exclusively for the rich who drive SUV’s to the venues.  Many found home in company teams where the company provides the logistics.  There are no social strata contrary to what others thought it to be—just age groups.

Post-race photo op at the sidelines of the SBR.PH Aquaman 2014, with my mentor's son, Bert Lozada Swimming School CEO Anthony Lozada.
In a multisport community, I found myself meeting up with my old coaches, fellow retired swimmers (who are now coaches) and other athletic veterans who are more than willing to impart wisdom to me.  Likewise, I have met newbies whom I eventually imparted wisdom to, to honor those who put up with me during my seemingly goalless adolescence.

An Aquaman's just dessert, after my first SBR.PH Aquaman in UP Diliman, Mar 2013.

Lastly, the greatest reward that comes from participation in these kinds of events is knowing you came out better than when you came in.  You competed in two sports in one day.  You achieved three records—the swim and run splits, and the overall time—all in one day.  Top that with extraordinary people and overall experience, the next thing you know, you’re hooked into this kind of life.  And your relationship with your couch, television, DoTA and junk food will be “just friends.”

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